Op-ed : Relief for the MTA

MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye surveys disinfecting operations at the Coney Island Stillwell Avenue Terminal, Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
Associated Press/Frank Franklin II, file

New York is coming back in ways small and large with sports venues already reopening, restaurants increasing indoor capacity, and weddings and other special events being scheduled for the summer. The MTA is also emerging from the darkest days of the pandemic and I’m looking forward to us playing a key part in the regional economic recovery.

Looking back on the last 12 months since the first case of COVID-19 arrived in New York is difficult. Fully comprehending the loss of over 520,000 Americans nationwide is unthinkable. That millions more have grappled with the virus, myself included, is still a startling reality. At the MTA, this once-in-a-century crisis has made for darkest year in our history by far. The most devastating part was the loss of more than 150 colleagues, who gave so much to keep New York moving. We mourn and grieve them every day and honor their sacrifice.

But true to the MTA and the incredible men and women of New York City Transit, MTA Bus Company, Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad and MTA Bridges and Tunnels, there were bright spots, too. Our heroic workforce showed up day after day to bring essential workers and first responders to the front lines to save lives. Their dedication and public service is inspiring.

I never doubted that the MTA would rise to the challenges of this public health crisis, just as MTA employees have risen to the occasion time and time again. However, because ridership declined precipitously, by more than 90 percent on the subways alone at the peak of the pandemic, our revenues fell dramatically. This had a crushing effect on our budget, half of which is made up of funds raised from fares and tolls. Dedicated taxes and subsidies also fell off a cliff, compounding our financial troubles.

Just a few months ago, we faced an unprecedented multi-year $16 billion deficit– roughly equivalent to the size of our annual budget. To close the gap, we were forced to draft doomsday plans that included draconian service cuts of up to 50 percent on the commuter railroads and up to 40 percent on subways and buses. Fortunately, we haven’t had to implement these draconian service cuts over the next two years. Thanks to the hard work of Senate Majority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and the bipartisan New York congressional delegation, we were able to receive $8 billion in federal aid through the CARES Act and CRRSAA, and we’re optimistic to receive billions more in President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to avoid future cuts.

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